HC Deb 12 March 1877 vol 232 cc1780-3

in rising to call attention to the Order in Council of August 1875, relating to the pay and pensions of warrant officers, and to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether it can be so revised as to give the full rate of pay to all warrant officers employed in training, receiving, and Coast Guard reserve ships, and also in sea-going ships, such as the "Thunderer" and "Dreadnought," while fitting for the pennant, so as to place the warrant officers upon the same footing as all other officers employed in the above mentioned ships? said, there was a distinction between sea-going ships and what were called "other ships, and a distinction in the rate of pay of 1s. a-day was made between warrant officers and others serving in the two classes of ships. What made the grievance the more serious was, that it was confined to warrant officers only, every other person in the Navy, from the Admiral down to the sea-boy, receiving the same amount of pay, whether upon a sea-going ship, or what was called an "other ship." The origin of the practice seemed to be that in times gone by warrant officers who were not fit to go to sea, were placed in charge of hulks, and shut up on harbour duty. These men were at home and in the neighbourhood of their families, and it was reasonable, under the circumstances, they should be placed on a lower scale of pay; but at the pre- sent time those "other ships," as they were called, comprised some of the most important ships of the British Navy, including those of the First Reserve of the Coast Guard Squadron, training ships, and ships fitting for the pennant. The duties performed by the warrant officers were most important, and whether the ships were in port or at sea, he was quite sure when the matter was brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, steps would be taken to redress the grievance, and put an end to a state of things sanctioned by the Order in Council of August, 1875, and which was an injustice to the warrant officers. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by asking the Question.


said, before the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty replied, perhaps the House would allow him to say a few words in answer to the suggestions of the hon. and gallant Member for Devon-port (Captain Price), and the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken (Mr. Gorst). The proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport was not a new one, and so far as the Admiralty and the House were concerned, the question of whether widows' pensions should be granted to the widows of men in the Navy had been discussed and considered for a long time past. In regard to the warrant officers, he thought the Admiralty had changed its mind three times within the last generation, and Parliament had meekly approved each volte face. It was quite true, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman had stated, that the case of the men in the Navy was a peculiar and exceptional one. In no other Service were widows' pensions granted upon a system to officers. In the Army they were only granted in exceptional cases, and the same with the Civil Service; but in the Navy there was a complete system of pensions applicable to commissioned and warrant officers. Therefore it was quite a fair and legitimate question to ask in that House, whether, as the granting of pensions was the rule in the upper ranks, there was any distinct reason why the advantage which was conceded with respect to the widows of the officers should not be allowed also with regard to the widows of the men. He ventured to think, however, that the hon. and gallant Gentle- man's proposal to make deductions from the pay of the men in order to form a fund was open to grave objections. A similar scheme had some years ago been adopted in the Civil Service, and had altogether failed. Every deduction from pay to form a fund out of which pensions were to be granted was sure to be unsatisfactory, for no one would believe that the percentage deduction fairly represented his prospects of pension; and if, on the other hand, it proved inadequate, it would be impossible to increase it. He, therefore, warned the House not to constitute an accumulating fund, which was certain to be a failure. Whether any contribution should be made from public funds, was for the Treasury and Admiralty to decide; but he would suggest that if the Government thought fit to deal with the question, there was a perfectly simple way of doing it, which would be entirely voluntary on the part of the men themselves, by which nobody would be aggrieved, and by which, whether assisted or not from public funds, they would get an exact equivalent of the contributions they made. The plan would be this—that at or after the marriage of any seaman, either while in the service or after his pension was assigned to him, he should be able to apply to the Admiralty and request that a pension of £10 or £20 should be paid to his widow, provided she survived him, and that at the time of his death he was either in the service or a pensioner. An actuary would then calculate what sum should be deducted every month from his pay or pension, which would depend on his and his wife's age; and some part of this might be charged on public funds, in consideration of the cases where the men would leave the service before reaching pension, in which case his widow would get nothing. He now wished to say a few words on the subject of the Question of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham which to him was a perfectly simple one. In former days the warrant officers were on two classes of payharbour-service and sea-service pay. When he first went to the Admiralty he found there were no less than six different scales of pay. The harbour-pay men received from 4s. to Gs. per day, and the sea-service men from 5s. to 7s. per day, and there were three classes of each service. He very much improved the position of those officers, and made two classes instead of six—putting harbour and sea-service on the same footing. That gave a great been, and that reform was, he believed, approved by the whole Service. He would be the last to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman, if he had thought it necessary to raise the scale still further; but he had gone back to the old system, and still further aggravated it by establishing seven rates of pay, again distinguishing sea-service from harbour-service. When the hon. and learned Member for Chatham placed his Notice on the Paper he (Mr. Childers) tried to find the Order in Council referring to this change in The Gazette, but he was unable to find it. Therefore he was not in a position really to understand what reason was given in the Order. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had gone back to the old system, to which there was so much objection, and he was confident that it would not satisfy the service. At all events, he believed it was a change for the worse, and he would join the hon. and learned Member for Chatham in pressing on the Admiralty to revert to the former system.